Colour of India

Colour of India
Saffron

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A UNIQUE CINEMATOGRAPHER WITH AN EXTRAORDINARY LOVE OF BOOKS-I


V SUNDARAM

Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities... much more so than music or language. ---Conrad Hall



The true university of these days is a collection of books. All that mankind has done, though, gained or beenL it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books-----Thomas Carlyle


VASANTH DEV (VASANTH KUMAR DEVASUNDARAM)

My friend Vasanth Dev (formerly Vasanth Kumar Devasundaram) is a great lover, reader and collector of books. Born on 17th February 1952, he took his B.Sc Degree from Delhi University. Later he took his Diploma in Cinematography from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

When I asked Vasanth Dev as to how he came to take a Diploma in Cinematography, with great frankness he told me: “In fact, to begin with, I had no intention of doing Cinematography in the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. My first choice was to do ‘Editing’ but very unfortunately I failed to qualify for it at the entry point. ‘Editing’ was a Two (2) Year Programme. Cinematography was only my second choice. The Selectors wanted me to show to them either some of the photographs I had taken or some of the paintings which I had done. When I showed to them some of my paintings, they were quite impressed and admitted me into the Three (3) Year Cinematography Programme. I made some sort of history because I was the first candidate to be given this opportunity of doing Cinematography Programme and also the first to succeed in the matter of exercising the second option of doing an approved programme after having failed to qualify for the first option.” Having said this with great humility, Vasanth Dev did not fail to add with a winning smile: “Of course, right from my childhood days I was passionately interested in painting and perhaps this interest in painting enabled me to get an opportunity of doing the 3 Year Cinematography programme at Pune.”

AN ABSTRACT PAINTING OF VASANTH DEV

ANOTHER ABSTRACT PAINTING OF VASANTH DEV

A STILL LIFE PAINTING OF VASANTH DEV

When I look at the paintings of Vasanth Dev, I can see how very right was the great English Painter Sir.Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) when he wrote in 1770: “A room hung with pictures, is a room hung with thoughts”. Simonides of Ceos (c. 556 BC-468 BC), a Greek lyric poet, said it for all time when he wrote in 500 BC: “Painting is nothing but silent poetry, and poetry is nothing but a speaking picture”. I am quoting Simonides here not without reason---my friend Vasanth Dev  is a lover of both Painting and Poetry.

I put this question to Vasanth Dev : How would you describe the work of a Cinematographer to a lay man like me? He gave me this answer:The work of the Cinematographer consists of transforming ideas in the mind and words on paper into images on film. This process has three requistes: technical knowledge, artistic sensibility and ability to collaborate with other people in the creative process, both in accepting suggestions from others without rancour and freely giving one’s ideas for the collective and cooperative end result.”
VASANTH DEV WITH HIS FAITHFUL CAMERA

Vasanth Dev is an outstanding Cinematographer, having served as Director of Photography for more than 40 Feature Films, 20 Ad Films, and a few social and corporate films. He won the Kerala State Award for Best Cinematography for the Film ORMAIKAI in 1983. He had the distinction of doing Cinematography for the Feature Film MARUPAKKAM ---a literary work of Indira Parthasarathy---and this Film won the National Award for Best Feature Film in 1992. Veteran Actor Chevalier Shivaji Ganesan decorated Vasanth Dev with a citation and Gold Medal for meritorious Service in the field of Cinematography in South India on the occasion of Silver Jubilee Celebrations of South Indian Cinematographer’s Association on 28th December 1997.

Receiving Gold Medal for meritorious Service in the field of Cinematography in South India from Chevalier Shivaji Ganesan

My next question to Vasanth Dev was this: “who are the great cinematographers who have inspired you and influenced you in your professional life as a Cinematographer?” This was his reply: “Four Cinematographers have greatly inspired me. First is an Italian called Giuseppe Rotunno (1923-) whose outstanding work as Cinematographer for an Italian Film ‘White Nights’ (Le notti bianche) produced in 1957 made a great impression upon me. ‘White Nights’ was based upon a short story by the great Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). The whole film was done by Giuseppe Rotunno in an Italian village. When I saw the film for the first time I could never imagine that the whole village was picturised by this great cinematographer within the precincts of a film studio. It has been so beautifully shot that you don’t feel that it is a story taking place in a set.”
GIUSEPPE ROTUNNO (1923-)



“Second is a Chinese American Cinematographer James Wong Howe (1899-1976) whose work as Cinematographer in a Film called ‘Picnic’ which came out in 1955 is rated as an instance of outstanding work. He had a great penchant for dramatic lighting and deep shadows.

                                     

JAMES WONG HOWE (1899-1976)


The third cinematographer cited by Vasanth Dev is William H. Daniels, A.S.C. (1901 - 1970). As a film cinematographer, he was best known as Greta Garbo's personal lensman. He worked regularly with director Erich von Stroheim.


William Daniels’s career as a cinematographer extended fifty years from the silent film Foolish Wives (1922) to Move (1970), although he was an uncredited camera operator on two earlier films (1919 and 1920). He also was a producer of some films in the 1960s and was President of American Society of Cinematographers from 1961 to 1963.


William Daniels has declared: "I didn't create a 'Garbo face.' I just did portraits of her I would have done for any star. My lighting of her was determined by the requirements of a scene. I didn't, as some say I did, keep one side of her face light and the other dark. But I did always try to make the camera peer into the eyes, to see what was there."


William Daniels served as cinematographer in nearly 164 films from 1922 to 1970. Many of them were great hits like Anna Christie (1930), Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936), Marie Antoinette(!936), Ninotchka(1939), Plymouth Adventure(1952), Can-Can(1959) and Come September(1961).Vasant Kumar’s favourite is Come September (1961). He told me: “William Daniels excelled all cinematographers when he worked on Come September (1961)”.


WILLIAM DANIELS (1901-1970)


The fourth cinematographer referred to by Vasanth Dev  is Subrata Mitra (1930 –2001)  an Indian cinematographer from Bengal. Acclaimed for his work in The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), Mitra is rated to be one of the greatest of Indian cinematographers. At the age of 21, Subarata Mitra, who had never held a camera before, began his career as a cinematographer with Satyajit Ray, the legendary Indian film maker, for Pather Panchali (1955). He continued to work with Satyajit Ray for many of his later films. Subarata Mitra is known for pioneering the technique of bounce lighting, while filming The Apu Trilogy.


According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers: “Subrata Mitra made his first technical innovation while shooting 'Aparajito'. The fear of monsoon rain had forced the art director, Bansi Chandragupta, to abandon the original plan to build the inner courtyard of a typical Benares house in the open and the set was built inside a studio in Calcutta. Mitra recalls arguing in vain with both Chandragupta and Ray about the impossibilities of simulating shadowless diffused skylight. But this led him to innovate what became subsequently his most important tool - bounce lighting. Mitra placed a framed painter white cloth over the set resembling a patch of sky and arranged studio lights below to bounce off the fake sky.”


Subrata Mitra’s Director Satyajit Ray has also confirmed this with pride: “You know, about seven or eight years after Pather Panchali was made, I read an article in American Cinematographer written by Sven Nykvist — at the time of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly, I think — claiming the invention of bounced light. But we had been using it since 1954.”

Vasanth Dev rates Subrata Mitra’s Charulata (1964) as his best work in the field of cinematography. This film was directed by Satyajit Ray.
SUBRATA MITRA (1930 –2001)


Vasnth Dev's elemental passion for cinematography as a unique form of art---at once unique and vital and vibrant and vivid----can be effectively described and portrayed through a bunch of great quotations from the writings of world famous cinematographers. I am presenting below some of those great quotations:

I think the way I film is based in dance. The relationship between me, the camera, and the actor is a dance.’Christopher Doyle



This exhibition is my corruption of a popular Chinese expression not three , not four which usually implies something is wishy washy, that the intent is not clear and the result ambiguous. I suggest the reverse here: that cinema is an experience modified by the three people most directly engaged: the first being the person (animal/object) in front of the camera, presenting, baring, searching, sharing through a medium (cameraperson/ director/lens) with a third participant: the viewer. All three have intent and integrity but the result is communal and personal… not wishy washy… very memorable… totally owned by each of the three… not some ambiguous four(th).’Christopher Doyle

There are several aspects of lighting. There's a broad sweep that's sort of impressionistic and reasonably realistic, but some of our British cameramen, and the French cameramen, too, were sort of 'itty-bitty'. George Perinal was considered one of the best cinematographers at the time, but he used dozens of lights-- a little bit here, a little bit there-- and it didn't look natural. A big director who had been a cameraman came over from America to do a screen test, and when this director came on set, he said: 'Are you ready, Peri? Peri said, 'Yes.' Then the director said to the gaffer, 'Kill that one, kill that one...' and he killed about 10 lights. Watching that was a lesson to me: SIMPLICITY."-Jack Cardiff, BSC


What endears Vasanth Dev's  most to me and my wife is not his achievements in the Field of Cinematography but his burning passion for books. He has an uncanny flair for selecting, locating and buying the best books in the fields of literature, art, poetry, religion, culture and philosophy. He is one of the best read persons I have come across not only in Chennai City but in the whole of India. The vast range of collection of his books in his private library is really amazing and the real beauty is the fact that it is equally and truly matched by the extraordinary range of his reading interests. I have come across readers with tremendous interest in and feel for Books in the field for Humanities and with no feel for Books in the field of Physical and Natural Sciences. Vasanth Dev is a highly evolved reader with equal passion for both Humanities and the Natural Sciences.


Recently Vasanth Dev took me by surprise by giving me the following two lists of 100 Best Non-Fiction Books and 100 Best Novels drawn up by Modern Library. I am presenting below both these lists I was stunned by the fact that he has read nearly 78% of the Best Books from these two lists relating to Fiction and Non-fiction. What is even more impressive is that Vasanth Dev has succeeded in hunting and collecting more than 70% of the best books from these 2 lists.


1. THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS by Henry Adams

2. THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE by William James

3. UP FROM SLAVERY by Booker T. Washington

4. A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN by Virginia Woolf

5. SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson

6. SELECTED ESSAYS, 1917-1932 by T. S. Eliot

7. THE DOUBLE HELIX by James D. Watson

8. SPEAK, MEMORY by Vladimir Nabokov

9. THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE by H. L. Mencken

10. THE GENERAL THEORY OF EMPLOYMENT, INTEREST, AND MONEY by   John Maynard Keynes

11. THE LIVES OF A CELL by Lewis Thomas

12. THE FRONTIER IN AMERICAN HISTORY by Frederick Jackson Turner

13. BLACK BOY by Richard Wright

14. ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL by E. M. Forster

15. THE CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote

16. THE GUNS OF AUGUST by Barbara Tuchman

17. THE PROPER STUDY OF MANKIND by Isaiah Berlin

18. THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN by Reinhold Niebuhr

19. NOTES OF A NATIVE SON by James Baldwin

20. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS by Gertrude Stein

21. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk and E. B. White

22. AN AMERICAN DILEMMA by Gunnar Myrdal

23. PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell

24. THE MISMEASURE OF MAN by Stephen Jay Gould

25. THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP by Meyer Howard Abrams

26. THE ART OF THE SOLUBLE by Peter B. Medawar

27. THE ANTS by Bert Hoelldobler and Edward O. Wilson

28. A THEORY OF JUSTICE by John Rawls

29. ART AND ILLUSION by Ernest H. Gombrich

30. THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS by E. P. Thompson

31. THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK by W.E.B. Du Bois

32. PRINCIPIA ETHICA by G. E. Moore

33. PHILOSOPHY AND CIVILIZATION by John Dewey

34. ON GROWTH AND FORM by D'Arcy Thompson

35. IDEAS AND OPINIONS by Albert Einstein

36. THE AGE OF JACKSON by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

37. THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB by Richard Rhodes

38. BLACK LAMB and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
39. AUTOBIOGRAPHIES by W. B. Yeats

40. SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION IN CHINA by Joseph Needham

41. GOODBYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves

42. HOMAGE TO CATALONIA by George Orwell

43. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN by Mark Twain

44. CHILDREN OF CRISIS by Robert Coles

45. A STUDY OF HISTORY by Arnold J. Toynbee

46. THE AFFLUENT SOCIETY by John Kenneth Galbraith

47. PRESENT AT THE CREATION by Dean Acheson

48. THE GREAT BRIDGE by David McCullough

49. PATRIOTIC GORE by Edmund Wilson

50. SAMUEL JOHNSON by Walter Jackson Bate

51. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X

52. THE RIGHT STUFF by Tom Wolfe

53. EMINENT VICTORIANS by Lytton Strachey

54. WORKING by Studs Terkel

55. DARKNESS VISIBLE by William Styron

56. THE LIBERAL IMAGINATION by Lionel Trilling

57. THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Winston Churchill

58. OUT OF AFRICA by Isak Dinesen

59. JEFFERSON AND HIS TIME by Dumas Malone

60. IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN by William Carlos Williams

61. CADILLAC DESERT by Marc Reisner

62. THE HOUSE OF MORGAN by Ron Chernow

63. THE SWEET SCIENCE by A. J. Liebling

64. THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES by Karl Popper

65. THE ART OF MEMORY by Frances A. Yates

66. RELIGION AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM by R. H. Tawney

67. A PREFACE TO MORALS by Walter Lippmann

68. THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE by Jonathan D. Spence

69. THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS by Thomas S. Kuhn

70. THE STRANGE CAREER OF JIM CROW by C. Vann Woodward
71. THE RISE OF THE WEST by William H. McNeill

72. THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS by Elaine Pagels

73. JAMES JOYCE by Richard Ellmann

74. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE by Cecil Woodham-Smith

75. THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY by Paul Fussell

76. THE CITY IN HISTORY by Lewis Mumford

77. BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by James M. McPherson

78. WHY WE CAN'T WAIT by Martin Luther King by Jr.
79. THE RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT by Edmund Morris

80. STUDIES IN ICONOLOGY by Erwin Panofsky

81. THE FACE OF BATTLE by John Keegan

82. THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND by George Dangerfield

83. VERMEER by Lawrence Gowing

84. A BRIGHT SHINING LIE by Neil Sheehan

85. WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham

86. THIS BOY'S LIFE by Tobias Wolff

87. A MATHEMATICIAN'S APOLOGY by G. H. Hardy

88. SIX EASY PIECES by Richard P. Feynman

89. PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard

90. THE GOLDEN BOUGH by James George Frazer

91. SHADOW AND ACT by Ralph Ellison

92. THE POWER BROKER by Robert A. Caro

93. THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION by Richard Hofstadter

94. THE CONTOURS OF AMERICAN HISTORY by William Appleman Williams

95. THE PROMISE OF AMERICAN LIFE by Herbert Croly

96. IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

97. THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER by Janet Malcolm

98. THE TAMING OF CHANCE by Ian Hacking

99. OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS by Anne Lamott

100. MELBOURNE by Lord David Cecil



1. ULYSSES by James Joyce

2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce

4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov

5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner

7. CATCH-22

8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler

9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence

10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry

12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler

13. 1984 by George Orwell

14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves

15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser

17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers

18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut

19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison

20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright

21. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow

22. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O'Hara

23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos

24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson

25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster

26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James

27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James

28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

29. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell

30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford

31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell

32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James

33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser

34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh

35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner

36. ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren

37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder

38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster

39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin

40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene

41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey

43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell

44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley

45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway

46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad

47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad

48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence

49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence

50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller

51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer

52. PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth

53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov

54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner

55. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett

57. PARADE'S END by Ford Madox Ford

58. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton

59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm

60. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy

61. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather

62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones

63. THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLES by John Cheever

64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger

65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess

66. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham

67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad

68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis

69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton

70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell

71. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes

72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul

73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West

74. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

75. SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh

76. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark

77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
78. KIM by Rudyard Kipling

79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
80. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh

81. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow

82. ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner

83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul

84. THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen

85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad

86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow

87. THE OLD WIVES' TALE by Arnold Bennett

88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London

89. LOVING by Henry Green

90. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie

91. TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell

92. IRONWEED by William Kennedy

93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles

94. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys
95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch

96. SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron

97. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles

98. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain

99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy

100. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington


It is a sheer delight to see Vasanth Dev lounging in his drawing room with these great books around him. Vasanth Dev talking with grace and great passion about his collection of books in his Library, brought to my mind the testament of faith of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) ‘I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lonely the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more. You have left all that is vulgar and all that is sordid behind you. There stand your noble, silent comrades, waiting in their ranks. Pass your eye down their files. Choose your man. And then you have but to hold up your hand to him and away you go together into dreamland’. Vasanth Dev really typifies such a noble attitude towards books.


When I asked Vasanth Dev as to what made him choose the lists of Great Books drawn up by The Modern Library, he replied as follows: “You may be aware of the fact that The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for 75 years during the 20th century starting from 1925. For decades, young Americans cut their intellectual teeth on Modern Library books. Their series of published books shaped their tastes, educated them, provided them with a window on the world. Many of the celebrated writers of America have attested that they ‘grew up with the Modern Library’. I too have grown up with the Modern Library.”


I am presenting below a short list of Vasanth Dev's personal favourites from The Century List drawn up by the Modern Library. What is unique about him is that not only he owns many of these books but is also familiar with most of them, having read them with deep passion and keen interest.












                                
















FRONT COVER OF BOOK                                                  RICHARD WRIGHT ((1908-1960)
IN VASANT DEV'S LIBRARY


Vasanth Dev told me that one of the earliest books he read in the 1980’s was ‘BLACK BOY’ (American Hunger) by Richard Wright. A hardcover edition of this book was originally published in 1945 by Harper & Brothers. A paperback edition was published in 1966 by Perennial Library and reissued in 1989. The text as restored by The Library of America was published in 1991. Richard Wright spent his early childhood as a black boy in the racist South. Migration to the North was accepted as an essential prelude to black people’s enjoying the full blessings of Liberty and Citizenship. The story of his early life up to the time of his leaving Memphis in the South for Chicago in the North clearly enables us to understand that there was an institutionalized form of cruel racism in the South where Blacks who displayed the courage to assert their basic Human Rights invited retribution or death.


Faced with inhuman persecution in the South, Richard Wright, he wanted to shift to the North and when he finally reached Chicago, he discovered with great pain that there were odious restrictions placed on genuine human freedom as much in the North as in the South. Richard Wright writes with great feeling: “My hazy notion that life could be lived with dignity, that the personalities of others should not be violated, that men should be able to confront other men without fear or shame in the North was simply transformed by the urban environment into clear ideas about the pervasive constrictions placed on authentic Human Freedom in the North as well as in the South.” Richard Wright came to the firm conclusion that the Promised Land in America for the Blacks was nowhere. Vasanth Dev told me that what moved him most deeply in this book of autobiography were the concluding words of Richard Wright: “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”

FRONT COVER OF THE BOOK                             HENRY ADAMS (1838-1918)
THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS



Vasanth Dev surprised me by saying that he has a copy of the first book listed in The Century List --The Education of Henry Adams—drawn up by The Modern Library


The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiographical work relating to the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in his early 60s to come to terms with the dawning of the 20th century which was very different from the world of his early youth. Henry Adams legitimately belonged to the American political aristocracy that emerged from the American Revolution of 1776. He was the grandson of the American President John Quincy Adams (1767 –1848). John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. was also the great-grandson of President and Founding Father of the American Republic John Adams (1735-1826) who was the Second President of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Henry Adams’s father, Charles Francis Adams, had served as ambassador to the United Kingdom during the American Civil War, and had been elected to the United States House of Representatives


Literary critics consider The Education of Henry Adams as one of the most distinguished examples of this genre of writing. This book will live forever in American literature as the truthful record of Henry Adams’s earnest search for self-education through his experiences, friendships, and reading. The Education is much more a record of Adams's introspection than of his deeds. It is an extended meditation on the social, technological, political, and intellectual changes that occurred over Henry Adams's lifetime. There are two striking aspects which set The Education apart from the common run of autobiographies. First, it is narrated in the third person and second, it is consciously sarcastic and humorously self-critical. As one eminent literary critic rightly observed: “Here, as always, Adams tells his story in a third-person voice that can seem almost extra-planetary in its detachment. Yet there's also an undercurrent of melancholy and amusement--and wonder at the specific details of what was already a lost world.”


Eminent educationists have viewed The Education of Henry Adams as a seminal source book on 19th century educational theory and practice. This book was privately printed in 1906 by Henry Adams for limited circulation. Its formal publication was done only after his death in 1918. One year later in 1919 the Pulitzer Prize was posthumously awarded to him.

The most important Chapter in Henry Adams’s Book is titled "The Dynamo and the Virgin". It contrasts the potent influence of CHRISTIANITY represented by VIRGIN MARY which was the unifying force acting on the European Middle Ages, with the DYNAMO, as representative of the forces of technology and industry which was impacting upon civilization—now referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution-- in the early years of the 20th century. With great feeling and sensitivity Henry Adams lamented about the destruction of the human values that had supported and sustained the achievements of his ancestors and with great prescience he rightly predicted the birth of a future age driven by corruption and greed. Henry Adams concluded that his traditional education failed to help him come to terms with these rapid changes; hence his heart-felt need for self-education.


The Education repeatedly mentions two long-standing friends of Adams, the scientific explorer of the Far West, Clarence King, and the American diplomat, John Milton Hay. The Education is an important work of American literary nonfiction. It provides a penetrating glimpse into the intellectual and political life of the late 19th century. The Education was nominated as the best book of the twentieth century several years later by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Vasanth Dev invited my attention to the following pithy quotations from the pen of Henry Adams

Quotations from John Adams


Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.


  • Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.

Practical politics consists of ignoring facts.


Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.


Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.


• From cradle to grave this problem of running order through chaos, direction through space, discipline through freedom, unity through multiplicity, has always been, and must always be, the task of education, as it is the moral of religion, philosophy, science, art, politics and economy; but a boy's will is his life, and he dies when it is broken, as the colt dies in harness, taking a new nature in becoming.

 THE FRONT COVER OF THE BOOK IN           RACHEL CARSON (1907-1964)

           VASANTH DEV'S LIBRARY


One of Vasanth Dev’s favourite books is ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson (1907 –1964) which was first published in 1962. She was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose was a great pioneer whose writings inaugurated and launched the global environmental movement. Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her financial security and recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea. When her greatest and history-making book titled ‘Silent Spring’ was published in 1962, the New York Times paid this tribute to her: “Miss Carson’s cry of warning is timely. If our species cannot police itself against overpopulation, nuclear weapons and pollution, it may become extinct.”


Silent Spring was a devastating attack on human carelessness, greed and irresponsibility that were destroying the world irrevocably and irretrievably for one and all. Miss Carson drew a living portrait of the destruction of the environment that was taking place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and how the balance of nature as decreed in the science of life was getting deranged with disastrous consequences for mankind. She gave a graphic account of what man was doing (and in fact had done for more than 20 years starting from 1940) to destroy the nature’s science of life by creating a man’s science of death.


May 28, 2010 marked the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring” which inspired and inaugurated The Modern Environmental Movement. According to Linda Engelsiepen it was Rachel Carson who gave nature a voice. To quote the appropriate words of Linda Engelsiepen: “Carson’s rare ability to combine scientific fact with poetic language reached the hearts and minds of a lay audience. Her readers’ eyes were opened not only to the beauty of nature and the tragedies of its ruin, but the travesty that this destruction was being carried out by forces supposedly acting for our own good. The result of Carson’s tour-de-force was ultimately a new public mindset: that the health of our environment directly affected us, and that we’d better take a stand to protect it or we would all suffer the consequences…. “Silent Spring” has become famous as the “book that got DDT banned,” which was one eventual result of the public outcry that followed its release. But contrary to popular belief, Carson never actually called for outright bans on substances, she merely argued for controlled restraint and scientific accountability. Her passion for her subject planted the seeds of a movement towards environmental awareness. Carson described a picture of ecological balance – when a species is uniformly destroyed, other species can multiply with impunity. She understood the interconnectedness of nature, and her poetic descriptions of seemingly mundane biological processes probably had as much of an effect of luring people to a love of nature and its stunning variety and brilliance as it did in sounding an alarm at its destruction.”


Margaret Mead (1901-1978) the world famous anthropologist praised Silent Spring by saying that it alerted mankind and all of us in these words ”Not against war, but a plethora of manmade things….is threatening to strangle us, suffocate us, bury us, in the debris and by-products of our technologically inventive and irresponsible age.”

Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) called ‘Silent Spring’ “The most important chronicle of the 20th Century for the human race.”


The next favourite book of Vasanth Dev  is R.H.Tawney’s ‘Religion and the Rise of Capatalism’ which was published in 1926. It is very unusual for any modern day scholar to be familiar with this book which was published 84 ye

   Front Cover of the Book in                                   R.H.Tawney (1880-1962)

   Vasanth Dev's  Library


Richard Henry Tawney was an English economic historian, social critic, Christian socialist, and an important advocate of adult education. The Oxford Companion to British History (1997) paid its tribute to Tawney by declaring that he made a “significant impact” upon all the four of these “interrelated roles”. It is now widely accepted that R.H.Tawney exercised the widest influence of any historian of his time, politically, socially and, above all, educationally.


Born in Calcutta, India, Tawney was educated at Rugby School. He studied modern history at Balliol College, Oxford. After graduating from Oxford in 1903, he and his friend William Beveridge lived at Toynbee Hall, then the home of the recently formed Workers Educational Association. The experience was to have a profound effect upon him. He realized that charity was insufficient and major structural change was required to bring about social justice for the poor. In keeping with his social radicalism, Tawney came to regard the Church of England as a “class institution, making respectful salaams to property and gentility, and with too little faith in its own creed to call a spade a spade in the vulgar manner of the New Testament”.


For three years from January 1908, Tawney taught the first Workers’ Educational Association(WEA) tutorial classes at Longton, Stoke-on-Trent and Rochdale, Lancashire. For a time, until he moved to Manchester after marrying Jeanette (William Beveridge’s sister), Tawney was working as part-time economics lecturer at Glasgow University. To fulfil his teaching commitments to the WEA, he travelled first to Longton for the evening class every Friday, before travelling north to Rochdale for the Saturday afternoon class. Tawney clearly saw these classes as a two-way learning process. Tawney wrote: “The friendly smitings of weavers, potters, miners and engineers, have taught me much about the problem of political and economic sciences which cannot easily be learned from books”.


Tawney’s first important work as a historian was The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (1912). He was elected Fellow of Balliol College in 1918. From 1917 to 1931, he was a lecturer at the London School of Economics (LSE). In 1926 he helped found The Economic History Society with Sir William Ashley, amongst others, and became the joint editor of its journal, The Economic History Review. From 1931 until retirement in 1949, he was a professor of economic history at the LSE and Professor Emeritus after 1949. He was an Honorary Doctor of the universities of Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Chicago, Melbourne, and Paris.


Tawney's historical works reflected his ethical concerns and preoccupations in economic history. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926) was his classic work and made his reputation as an historian. It explored the relationship between Protestantism and economic development in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tawney “bemoaned the division between commerce and social morality brought about by the Protestant Reformation, leading as it did to the subordination of Christian teaching to the pursuit of material wealth”.

R.H.Tawney was a fearless critic of Protestant Christianity with a rare combination of political wisdom, historical insight and moral force. He was a great prophet who made a blistering attack on the acquisitiveness of modern societies.


R.H.Tawney’s words from the last chapter of his classic “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism” are worth quoting: ‘Modern Capitalism’, writes Mr.Keynes,is absolutely irreligious, without internal union, without much public spirit, often, though not always, a mere congeries of possessors and pursuers.’ It is that whole system of appetites and values, with its deification of the life of snatching to hoard, and hoarding to snatch, which now, in the hour of its triumph, while the plaudits of the crowd still ring in the ears of the gladiators and the laurels are still unfaded on their brows, seems sometimes to leave a taste as of ashes on the lips of a civilization which has brought to the conquest of its material environment resources unknown in earlier ages, but which has not yet learned to master itself. It was against that system, while still in its supple and insinuating youth, before success had caused it to throw aside the mask of innocence, and while its true nature was unknown even to itself, that the Saints and Sages of earlier ages launched their warnings and their denunciations.”


Front Cover Of Book All Rivers Run To The Sea        E                             ELIE WIESEL (1928---)

IN VASANT DEV'S LIBRARY

Vasanth Dev spoke to me eloquently about Elie Wiesel’s Memoirs (1928-1969) titled “All Rivers Run to the Sea”. Elie Wiesel is a writer, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, the best known of which is Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

We can clearly see from Elie Wiesel’s famous autobiographical book All Rivers Run to the Sea that he is an outstanding intellectual in search of explanations for the evil that pervaded Hitler’s death camps. The following heart-rending and moving passages from this book bring out in really evocative terms humanity’s inhumanity to the Jews even after the suicide of Hitler on 30th April 1945 and the total defeat of Germany and the end of the II World War. Let us hear the eloquent words of Elie Wiesel. Only when we read these passages we get to understand how very right was Winston Churchill when he said: “There is a world of difference between mere rhetoric and sheer eloquence. Rhetoric is fireworks and eloquence is fire.”



“The truth must be stated and restated. The suffering of the Jewish survivors did not end with the war; society wanted no part of them, either during or after. During the war all doors were closed to them, and afterward the remained shut. The evidence is irrefutable. They were kept in the places were they had suffered. Granted, after some delay they were housed (in barracks), fed (badly), and clothed (pitifully),but they were made to feel that they were beggars and poor relations ,extra mouths to feed. Time does not heal all wounds. Some remain open and raw.”


When strong protests and complaints against the ill treatment of the Jews by the Allied Forces, even after the II World War, reached the ears of President Truman, he directed General Eisenhower to clean up alleged shocking conditions in the treatment of displaced Jews in Germany outside the Russian zone and in Austria. President Truman’s message was drafted by Earl Harrison, former Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and American Representative to the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees. The September 30, 1945 issue of The New York Times devoted a long and devastating article to Earl Harrison’s Report. The New York Times concluded thus:


“As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in Concentration camps in larger numbers under our own Military Guard instead of SS Troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we too are following or at least condoning the Nazi Policy.”


Elie Wiesel has commented as follows on the above finding of The New York Times: “As I read and reread this article, feelings of shame, frustration and sorrow sweep over me. American Jewish Leaders, intellectuals and humanists must have read this Report. They knew- they must have known—that their brothers and sisters were suffering in Germany, yet they did little to relieve their plight. I don’t like to criticize fellow Jews, but their passivity seems incomprehensible.”

There is no doubt that Elie Wiesel owes the Award of the Nobel Prize to him in 1986 to the singular influence his writing has had on Holocaust Thinking and its application to the defense of universal human rights. When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind", noting that through his struggle to come to terms with "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps", as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace", Wiesel had delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity to humanity.”
Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical narrative All Rivers Run to the Sea begins with his experience of growing up in Sighet, and then briefly touches on his experiences in the concentration camp at AUSCHWITZ. The book talks about his experiences as a student and journalist in France after the war, his move to New York City, experiences in Israel, and his American citizenship. All Rivers Run to the Sea is a dialogue between Wiesel and his readers. It inspires questions about humanity, religion, and scholarship while providing a moving account of how Elie Wiesel became a writer and human rights figure.


Elie Wiesel is one of that small group of survivors of the Holocaust who understands and accepts that an important part of his life is to be a witness and to use his scholarship and his great gift for story-telling in testifying to the unprecedented tragedy of his people. He has another gift: meeting people and gaining their confidence and trust. There are anecdotes on virtually every page of All Rivers Run to the Sea–and many of them could easily become short stories or novels. This book transports us memorably to a vanished world that existed prior to 1930—a world that was filled with Jewish Learning and Laughter and Love. There are few more poignant pieces of writing in what has come to be known as Holocaust Literature than Wiesel’s description of his father’s death, a mere two pages which encapsulate an eternity of suffering.


This book shows that he has never been able to cast off the tentacles of darkness that shackled him during the Second World War. In his deathless phrase “Memory is a passion no less powerful or pervasive than love”.


On the question of forgiveness, Wiesel writes, "I could conceivably forgive the evil the Germans did to me personally, but not the suffering and death they inflicted on my parents, on all the dead Jewish parents and all their murdered children."


When I asked Vasanth Dev whether he agrees with those who complain that radio and television today are the real enemies of the book, he gave me this beautiful answer: “I am firmly of the view that libraries and books will ever remain permanent islands of infinite choice in a chaotic sea of multiple TV channels. Printed books were amongst the first great stirrers of the exploring spirit. They created and awakened a vast range of wants and needs. That is why through books we can live a thousand lives in one. We can discover America with Columbus, stand with Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, and work in a laboratory with Thomas Alva Edison. When we read Sir Winston Churchill's War Memoirs, we relive the hectic days of the Second World War. Nehru's description of the Dandi march enables us to accompany Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu and hundreds of other freedom fighters on their March to Dandi in 1930 and to exclaim marching along with them 'Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai' and 'Inquilab Zindabad'.”


I fully endorse the views of Vasant Dev. We can enrich our spirit with the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Through books we can know the majesty of great poetry, the wisdom of the philosophers, the findings of the scientists. Through books we can start today from where the great thinkers of yesterday left off, because books have immortalized man's knowledge. Thinkers dead for a thousand years, come alive in their books today as when they walked the earth. Through books we can orient our lives to the world we live in, for books link the past, the present and the future. The great electronic modern conquerors of space like the radio and the television cannot conquer time. Only the books can accomplish that. Books will remain forever our messengers from the longer past to the still longer future.

Unlike in the world of electronic media like TV Channels, in the world of books, the individual reader and the individual buyer remain sovereign. In this context, I cannot resist quoting the most inspiring words of Daniel Joseph Boorstin (1914 –2004), the 12th Librarian of the United States Congress: “Books and libraries are the real sanctuaries of self-help. Books and libraries remain as they have always been, the most open of open universities — institutions of the highest learning, where there are no entrance examinations, no registration fees, no examinations and no diplomas, and where one can enter at any age. There we make available the great teachers of all ages and all nations. We have no problems with their tenure. In this invisible endless faculty of great teachers, they all have tenure, and yet none of them becomes senile or lazy, nor can they inhibit their successors. And we need not worry that any of them will be distracted from their teaching.”


A good library stocked with great and timeless books sets the prophet against the priest, the democrat against the tyrant, the prisoner against society, the has-nothing against the has-all, the individual against the universe. The infinite pathos of several generations lies here, their beatings against the wall, their desperate escapes, their triumphant reconciliations. Books create worlds and destroy worlds. Books are the mirrors of light and the mirrors of darkness in which the universe sees its own face.


As a great British writer rightly observed: “Books are man's rational protest against the irrational, man's pitiful protest against the implacable, man's ideal against the world's real, man's word against the cosmic dumbness, man's life against a planetary death, man's revelation of the God within him, man's repartee to the God without him. Who ever touches a book touches not only a man but 'MAN'.”These beautiful and noble thoughts about the eternal glory and grandeur of great books in the roaring loom of time keep on invading my mind, heart and soul, whenever and wherever I have a long and detailed discussion with Vasanth Dev on books and libraries.



(to be continued)

No comments: